SEOUL — South Korea’s female archers have been a dominant force, winning every women’s team competition since the event was first introduced at the 1988 Seoul Games.
In Tokyo on Friday, An San, 20, won gold in the women’s individual competition, beating Elena Osipova of Russia, 6-5. It is her third gold medal of these Games, after South Korea’s wins in the women’s team and mixed team events over the weekend. An also toppled a 25-year-old record last week when she scored 680 in the individual qualification round.
Despite An’s achievements on the international stage, some South Korean social media users have been attacking her — not for her performance at the Olympics, but for her short haircut.
Thousands of online commenters have accused her of being a feminist, a word that often has more radical connotations in South Korea, where some people associate the label with hating men.
“Are you sure An San isn’t a feminist,” one commenter wrote on Instagram. “She meets all the requirements to be one.”
On one of An’s Instagram posts, a user asked why she had cut her hair.
“Because it’s comfortable,” she replied with a smirking smiley face emoji.
Members of the South Korean women’s volleyball and air rifle teams with short hairstyles have been subjected to similar abuse during the Games.
High-profile figures are often targeted by anti-feminists in South Korea, and An has been in the spotlight because of her Olympic success, said Lee Wonjae, a professor of social network analysis at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea weighed in on Friday evening, releasing a statement congratulating An on her third gold medal in Tokyo. “Her pride is our pride,” he said, praising her “steely” focus during the competition. He also mentioned her struggle to overcome discrimination, in an apparent reference to the anti-feminist posts.
An’s supporters have flooded the Korea Archery Association’s message boards, calling for it to protect the Olympic gold medalist. The Korean hashtag #women_shortcut_campaign has been trending on Twitter, with users uploading photographs of their own hairstyles in support of An and other women who choose to cut their hair short.
In a statement earlier on Friday, a spokesman for the Korea Archery Association said that the group was asking the public to refrain from commenting on the controversy over An’s haircut. “We will do everything to support our athlete,” he said, adding that further scrutiny would be of no help to An during one of the most important competitions of her life.
Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting.